I wanted to spend a few minutes on dealing with children and fear today, and how I think many parents are harming their child’s ability to overcome their fears.
If you’ve been a reader of mine for any length of time, you know that I think learning how to overcome fears is one of the 6 character traits that is our duty to imprint into our children, if we are TRULY focused on raising a successful child.
Children who grow up running from their fears, are incapable of reaching their full potential. Nobody becomes successful without facing the demons in their closet.
Sadly, most parents don’t actually understand the psychology surrounding what actually creates fear in a child, and what it takes to overcome it.
So I thought I’d shed some light on the biggest mistake I see parents make.
How “Flooding” Children With Fear Makes Fears Stronger
If you are like me, when you first heard the word “flooding”, you had no idea what it meant, and had no idea of the role it plays in regards to children and fear. If you do not understand the law behind flooding and how it works, it’s probably working against you.
At least that was my experience, when I first learned about flooding… it just wasn’t with children.
As you may know, before I became a parent, I co-founded and built the internet’s largest internet based parrot training company. My brother and I started our company in our parents’ basement, with nothing but the dream of fixing some bad behaviors in our parents’ birds. We turned that dream into a thriving, successful business.
We would shoot videos of ourselves trying to train our birds, in an attempt to help our birds overcome their fears of us…
But in doing so, we made a big mistake!
Because we didn’t understand the psychology of how fear is created and overcome, we resorted to using a technique called “Flooding”.
What is Flooding?
Flooding is a technique where, in our case, we were trying to force our birds, who were afraid of us, to do things they didn’t want to do. We forced the birds to step up onto a pair of dowels. We used wooden dowels because the birds were so aggressive and vicious, they would have shredded our hands. By using sticks, we could get the bird to do what we wanted it to do WITHOUT getting bitten.
Please keep in mind, that none of this was done maliciously. We didn’t abuse the birds physically. We talked softly to them and tried to tell them that everything was okay. We thought that if we took a scared bird and forced him to hang out with us, the bird would eventually realize that we meant him no harm. Then the bird would stop being so afraid and aggressive towards us.
We were literally “flooding our birds” with fear, hence the name of the term. Yet, our motive was to do the opposite-to remove the bird’s fear!
We THOUGHT This Technique was extremely effective for The Bird to Overcome Fear. . . NOT!
The problem with this particular training strategy, is that when it is used on a living creature (animal or human), who ALREADY has INTENSE fears, it is very harmful. Because these birds had given up hope of an escape over a prolonged period of time, we created in them what is called “Learned Indifference”.
“Learned Indifference” is when a living creature gives up all hope of being able to escape their fears or pain and withdraws inward. It’s like a piece of them dies and they give up hope.
While I’m no clinical psychologist, I’m sure it is safe to say, that this type of withdrawing from problems is a common thread amongst our society’s sex abusers, alcoholics, drug addicts, etc., etc.
Here’s why this is tricky… unfortunately, from the outside, it looked like the problem was fixed, because the outward expressions of our birds’ fear have gone away. Psychologically, however, there has been some serious trauma. Our birds never did “re-hab” like we thought they would have. . . . .
So How Does This Relate To My Children And Their Fears?
I recently saw children and fear, adversely working together, was when I took my two children to Charlie Safari, a Children’s Paradise my family love to frequent near our home. It’s the kind of place with lots of bouncy houses and things to climb in, on and around.
My son adores the place, so I was excited to finally bring my daughter too. But she did not share that same excitement for the bouncy houses. She was terrified!
In fact, I saw a lot of terrified young children at these places, whether it was going down the steep slides, or feeling trapped in the bouncy houses. And almost without fail, I saw parents behave one of two ways.
- They RESCUED their children and held them for the rest of the time they were there.
- They kept trying to “flood” their children back into the environment they feared, hoping they would get used to it. Do you see where I am going with this?
Both of these strategies are incomplete at best. (There are MUCH better strategies, such as the “Emotional Anchoring” strategy I teach parents in my Imprinting Success Before 5 Program. This program shows you how to reprogram your children and fear, so what used to terrify them doesn’t anymore! What they used to fear actually turns into something your children actually enjoy.)
The problem with the 2 strategies used by the parents I watched at Charlie Safari, is that these techniques “imprint” the habit of teaching our children to NOT face and deal with their fears! When your children are rescued, you imprint the belief that someone will always be there to save them. When you flood your children IN their fear, you create in your children, a habit of withdrawing and running from their fear.
Both are not good, and that’s what I wanted to stress to you today.
So How Did I Handle My Daughter’s Fear?
I bought her a Blast Zone Bounce House for our back yard. Actually, truth be told, we already had a bounce house, but I’m as addicted to buying the latest and greatest models of them, as my wife is into buying diaper bags!
These bounce houses have all the same noises as the ones at Charlie Safari, that scared my daughter so much; like the loud blower that keeps them pumped up with air. (You can get ones with steep slides and climbing apparatuses for building bravery too.) By having this bouncy house in my own backyard, I got to practice exposing it to my daughter on a regular basis.
Here’s one of my favorite strategies I used to help her overcome the fear of a bounce house:
After realizing my daughter needed to work on overcoming this fear, I told myself that, until she overcame her fear of bounce houses, my goal would be to read her favorite books to her from INSIDE the bounce house in our backyard! My strategy was that simple. . . now here is where the fun began! Can you guess how long it took her to overcome the fear of bounce houses? Not even an hour!
So, look for ways to help your children overcome their fears. I chose to use her books and snuggly blankies, to turn our bounce house into fun reading place with daddy. Did it start in the bounce house? No, it actually started right next to the bounce house on the grass. Remember my example of breaking down challenging obstacles for your children into small steps from yesterday? The same approach applies here. I found motivational rewards for her, and gave them to her as she overcame low levels of fear. When she had conquered her low levels of fear, I upped the ‘fear-o-meter’, until I had conditioned her to be okay with the very thing that terrified her just a few hours earlier! To learn more about all of my strategies for handling children and fear, check out my Imprinting Success Before 5 program. Then have some FUN coming up with your own strategies, as you continue on your journey to become the parent you want to be. . .